Recently, there’s been a rash of video game editorials that start their controversial piece with a joke about people chastising them for their views, so I’ll go ahead and forego that introduction. Instead, let’s just get on with it: Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario 3D Land are disappointing games. To me. Not to all the reviewers who heralded both games (in particular World) as one of the best games of the year. But to me. And possibly you.
You might question my decision to lump both games together, but my criticisms apply to both games equally so I’ll keep this simple and look at both together.
The good news: These game can be fun. If you’re sitting in a room with three friends, pushing each other off ledges and fighting for a coveted crown can be a blast. The graphics are beautiful, the level design is intelligent, and the music, well, the music fits the mood perfectly. Both games do what they’re trying to do very well by offering (eventually) challenging and diverse terrain that utilizes interesting new ideas around every corner. The Captain Toad levels in particular are a wonderful diversion from the main game. Each game introduces new concepts; 3D Land experiments with depth and 3D World give you a cat suit which allows you to run up walls. I’m oversimplifying what these games offer, but those are some of the strongest areas.
The bad news: These games were not fun for me personally. I recently moved, and since I no longer have a circle of localized gaming friends, I’m relegated to playing most of my games solo for the time being. Yes, this is beginning to sound like a “me” problem, but I really did not enjoy going through these campaigns for many reasons:
The difficulty: The first eight worlds in SML were so easy that my 4-year niece could have torn them apart. Ok, so that’s an exaggeration, but I literally had myself on autopilot for the entire first half of the game. Things do ramp up in the second half of the game, but really? Do we have to wait for half of the game over before we get some engaging and challenging levels? The difficulty valleys aren’t as noticeable in SMW, but they’re still there and really take away from the fun.
I understand that Nintendo wants to appeal to many audiences and that means that challenges need to be able to be met by younger kids. However, not all of us want to run around collecting stuff all the time as a substitute for a decent challenge. How about some difficulty options? Come to think of it, how have classic Mario games always gotten away with not having difficulty options? We’d be appalled if the latest COD or Tomb Raider didn’t have difficulty options, but we’re just supposed to accept what we’re given with these games.
The world: This was my biggest gripe, and to be fair, maybe I’m just looking for a different game. But these games felt even more formulaic than usual. OK, so you have an overworld map, and you move your character to the space where you enter a level. Has the same approach used in SMB3 and the SNES SMW not grown? Yes, those game were, and are, classics, but they are 20 years old! Let’s see some innovation. I had the same problems with New Super Mario Bros U. One of Nintendo’s biggest strengths lies in their confidence to innovate and try new things. Yes, they recycle franchises, and yes, occasional revisitations are welcome, but not when it’s the same thing that they used as 1990 and countless time since!
A Link Between Worlds was an absolutely fantastic game, without a doubt one of my favorites from 2013. One of the reasons I loved it so much was that it revisited the world and structure of one of my top 10 games of all time, A Link to the Past. But it didn’t stop with recreating that world; it used that arrangement as a stepping stone to pioneer other, interesting ideas. You no longer have to complete dungeons in a certain order. You can get around to new areas with the painting mechanic. You aren’t restricted to specific items that you get one by one in each dungeon that you complete. It was precisely because these new ideas were introduced into the established world of ALTTP that I drew such enjoyment from that game.
What’s new in these latest Mario games? Yes, we have some cat suits, and yes, you can shift the 3D slider on your 3ds to change things up, but these additions feel stale in the face of the successful integration of old and new in A Link Between Worlds. These Mario games simply aren’t able to blend the new with the old in an exciting way.
The Story: Does Nintendo even try for their Mario game stories? Again, to be fair, they’ve never put much effort into the story for most conventional Mario games, but that doesn’t make it right. X candidate needs rescuing does not a good story make. I certainly don’t think a game needs an exciting and compelling story to be enjoyable and well-made, but in this type of environment, it would have helped. Instead, I found myself trudging through the game, sighing to myself wondering how much longer until the end.
Don’t get me wrong: these latest entries in the Mario series are great games. Like almost every first-party Nintendo game, they’re polished and they play wonderfully. Add in everyone’s favorite characters from the past, and you’ve got a winning formula for success. But given Nintendo’s tendency to innovate, the action and arrangement of the latest Mario games proved to be a disappointment to me, and I just simply didn’t enjoy them.
Mario 64 is my favorite game of all time. Multiple Mario games are featured in my favorite games of all time list. I truly enjoy almost every one I play; there’s just something special about that portly Italian plumber jumping on top of little brown waddling mushroom heads (or goombas, as they’re curiously called). But these latest entries just didn’t do it for me, and though I no longer like to sell games when I’m done with them, they both went on ebay just a few weeks after purchase. Thankfully Nintendo games seem to rarely lose value, so I recouped my losses and moved on to the next game…comically enough, it’s another Mario game – MarioKart 8. Now that game will remain in my rotation for years to come – another story for another day.